BSG Retrospective

I’ve been a science fiction fan since…forever.  The first scifi series that I can remember reading was Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Star series in fourth grade.  I think I’ve read everything from Robert Heinlein, James P Hogan, Peter F Hamilton, Alistair Reynolds and Orson Scott Card ever published.  I peruse the Baen website just so I can get decent scifi on my eReader.

Science Fiction on television and in the movies has generally been pretty awful and campy.  I enjoyed all of the various Star Treks and liked Babylon 5 and various others, but none of them compared to the updated Battlestar Galactica.  BSG was raw.  It was gritty.  It was in your face.  People died (regularly).   There were no win-win situations – just ones less bad than others.

Some people criticize BSG for having a major religious overtone throughout the series.  I think that’s part of what makes it so special.  Scifi often takes two approaches to religion.  It’s either non-existent or it’s a zen-like universal force (as in The Force in Star Wars).  BSG took it to the next level because one of its central themes is that the two sides are fighting about whether which god or gods is the true one(s).

If that sounds familiar it’s because it is.  Scifi is often one of the few philosophical avenues we can explore subjects and not be considered bigoted by a judgmental society so bent on taking offense at talking about our differences.  Instead of talking about Christians vs Muslims BSG talks about the human gods versus the Cylon’s one god and how they go to war over that idea.  It’s an ugly war.  Humans and Cylons do awful things to each other and perhaps worse, to their own side.  Throw in Cylon resurrection (and subsequent loss of it) and you get some interesting stories.

Scifi also has a tendency to gloss over politics as well.  BSG in its gritty way lets us explore our cannibalistic and dysfunctional ways of dealing with extreme situations.  Take 50,000 people (at the beginning of the series) and make them run for their lives.  Throw in shortages of everything.  Crowded living conditions.  And then throw in every mix of life from the military to refugees to convicts and see what happens as they fight (but mostly run) for their lives.  I don’t think I saw a final count on survivors at the end of the series but it’s around 20,000 (?).  Along the way we have dirty politics (trying to throw an election), a military coup,, trials and executions, and unification with former enemies.

It’s kind of funny because few TV shows (much less scifi stories) talk about sex, drinking or even bathroom habits.  BSG takes it to the extreme by having the ship crewed by a mixed crew of men and women in close quarters.  Not having been in the military I can only guess how far off this vision from current reality is but I thought it made for a good juxtaposition of our reality.  You put men and women together in stressful situations and you’ll get the sex, drugs and rock and roll (All Along the Watchtower?  Who the F picked that song?  Not that I’m complaining but it seemed an odd mix.  Jimmy H was a science fiction fan, if you didn’t know).  I don’t remember any gay characters in BSG but it’s hard to explore everything in a series.

The characters in BSG are incredibly complex.  You get to know even the ancillary characters in a way that makes you know them feel for them.  I think the whole series should be subtitled “The Redemption of Gaius Baltar” because of his incredible journey from traitor of humanity to puppet politician to narcissistic prophet and finally to selfless human.  It’s quite the journey.

Some say the ending was bad.  I disagree.  It’s rare for a TV series to have an ending at all and I thought it was awful to end at finding a radioactive Earth (from what we thought was the end of the series last year).  I’m glad they were able to do the final episodes because it gave us some closure.  There is no possibility of movie sequels because they gave it an ending worthy of the series.  In case you haven’t seen the ending I won’t spoil it.  (I guess there are some spinoffs from BSG but I don’t give them much of a chance to live past a couple of seasons.)

If BSG wasn’t the best scifi television series ever (to date at least), what was it?  What was your take on the series?  Was it good, bad or meh?